Milling our First Log & Building Saw Horses

Fri Nov 12 2021

After assembling our brand new Woodland Mills HM126 Woodlander XL sawmill, we couldn't wait to mill our first log to make stickers, cants and saw horses!

Milling our First Log & Building Saw Horses
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Assembling the Woodland Mills HM126 XL Sawmill

After waiting more than 3 months, our Woodland Mills saw mill finally arrived! It took us about 2 days to get it assembled, but now we're ready to start milling!

Assembling the Woodland Mills HM126 XL Sawmill

We've spent the past few months soaking up as much information as possible about sawmills - YouTube videos, blog posts, forums, and even helping out a local sawyer to get some hands on experience.

Even so, finding ourselves standing in front of the mill, ready to saw our first log was still pretty nerve-wracking! With piles of logs to choose from, where to start?

Clearing Brush, Shipping Container & RV Updates

It's been a busy week with lots of development on the land, plus my first hands-on experience with a sawmill!

Clearing Brush, Shipping Container & RV Updates

Cants & Stickers

Milling is just the first step in a process of turning a log into usable lumber. The next step is to carefully stack the lumber so it can air dry. When stacking the lumber, it's essentially that each piece is completely flat as it dries, but also that air is able to freely flow around all the pieces to dry them.

The solution to this is to stack the lumber on top of cants - in our case, 4x4" pieces of wood to keep the pile off the floor and allow airflow underneath.

On top of each cant is laid a sticker - a 1x1" piece of wood. The wood to dry is then laid perpendicular to the stickers in a layer. More layers are added on top, each separated by more stickers to allow airflow.

But where do you get cants and stickers from? We mill them of course!

So for our very first log we chose a relatively small spruce, a little over 8ft long. We have a LOT of spruce to clear for the house site in spring next year so we can afford to make a few mistakes.

After going through our pre-cutting checklist about 3 times we were ready go go. We loaded our chosen log onto the sawmill, lined up our first cut and with a little trepidation fired up the 14hp gas engine.

Milling First Log
We opted to start with a nice, small spruce log for our first try at milling.

Diana kept a close eye on progress from one side while I pushed the saw head from the other. The powerful engine and brand new blade made light work of the cut - the phrase "like a knife through butter" would be very appropriate!

It didn't take long at all before we had cut our first 4x4 cant, and a few pieces of 2x4 material too.

Milling our First Log
It worked. It totally worked! We successfully turned a raw spruce log into useful dimensional lumber!

Building a Saw Horse

Wait, 2x4? I thought we were trying to produce 1x1 stickers.

Well, we are, but bootstrapping an operation like this is complex. We don't just have to mill our cants and stickers but we also have to cut them to length. For that we needed a platform to put them on to make the cut - we needed a saw horse.

OK, we totally could have used the tailgate on the truck or the equipment trailer or something else. But we wanted to build something!

I had previously found a YouTube video on how to build a simple saw horse using basic cuts of wood and a handful of screws. I was impressed with the simplicity of the design, but also the ease with which we could cut the wood we needed.

YouTube Video Player

Using some of our freshly cut 2x4 and 1x6 lumber, it took us about 10 minutes to build one of these saw horses with our Dewalt 60V cordless circular saw and brand new Dewalt DCF850 impact driver.

And yes, I appreciate the irony that we had to cross-cut this wood too, just like the stickers and we did that on the trailer deck! But the point is that we made a saw horse. A really strong, solid, stable saw horse.

Saw Horse Design
It only took about 10 minutes to make from lumber we had milled ourselves, but this saw horse is rock solid. I foresee building a lot more of these in future!

Let me just reiterate that - in the space of just a few hours we had turned a spruce log into a fully functioning saw horse. I realize that in the universe of human achievements, this ranks as pretty minor, but to us it was a huge accomplishment - we built a real, useful thing out of raw materials on our land.

In fact, we were so pleased with the saw horse that the next time we were back at the property a few days later, we built another one!

Saw Horses
A (nearly) matching pair of saw horses - can you spot the difference?

Stacking Lumber

After the success milling our first log, we moved on and milled several more spruce logs, first creating a load of stickers.

Lumber Stickers
These 1x1 pieces of wood are called stickers and are what we'll use to separate the layers of wood in our stacks and air to flow through to dry them.

And then cants.

4x4 Cants
After milling the 4x4" cants, we cut them to length with the circular saw - it took a couple of passes because the circular saw can't cut 4" deep.

It wasn't long before we had more than a dozen cants and a hundred stickers - a good start but a tiny fraction of the number we'd eventually need. These are still green lumber, and as such are prone to twisting and warping just like any other lumber we'll mill so we decided to stack and sticker them to let them dry for a few days - nowhere near enough for them to fully dry, but even a few days will help.

We have a distinct lack of flat space on our property so we opted to stack the stickers and cants on our equipment trailer deck for now.

Buying a Used Equipment Trailer

Less than 48 hours after seeing a For Sale sign at the side of the road, we had bought a 20ft equipment trailer!

Buying a Used Equipment Trailer
Stickers and Cants
Our first stack of lumber - more than 100 stickers and a dozen cants.

Once we seriously start milling lumber though, we'll need a LOT more storage space. We have a plan for that...stay tuned to see what our next project is!

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